Finn Family Moomintroll is a tale of adventure, friends and family, delicious yellow pancakes, young love, the biggest ruby in the world, wishes, and a very special hat. It begins on the first Spring morning in Moominvalley, when Moomintroll awakes from his long winter’s nap and sets off on a before-breakfast adventure with his friends Snufkin and Sniff. They climb to the top of the mountain and find there a lovely tall black hat, which they bring home to Moominhouse—but since it doesn’t actually fit anyone, they decide it is best suited to be a wastepaper basket and Moomintroll throws his eggshell in it. At first, no one suspects that the hat’s responsible for the small white clouds that soon appear and whisk Moomintroll and his beloved, the Snork Maiden, up for a ride in the sky—but after several more curious transformations take place, the Moominfamily realize that the hat is actually really quite unpredictable and dangerous. No matter what they do, though, the hat seems to keep finding its way back into their lives…
Meanwhile, the Moominfamily and their friends find a boat washed up on the beach, christen it The Adventure, and go on a glorious overnight trip to Lonely Island where they meet the ferocious Hattifatteners and find shipwrecked treasure including a big and gorgeous buoy, a lot of gold, and a ship’s figurehead they call the Wooden Queen. Later in the summer, Moomintroll and his friends spend a night camping out in a cave, where Snufkin tells them about the Hobgoblin, who has scary red eyes and flies around on a black panther searching for the King’s Ruby, the biggest ruby in the world, and who is said to have lost his black hat before flying to the moon to search there! When they return to Moominhouse the next day they find that Moominmamma has dropped a flower into the Hobgoblin’s Hat and the house has become completely overgrown with vines, inside and out. After fighting their way inside they have a thrilling Tarzan-esque romp, and thankfully the out-of-control foliage withers when the sun goes down, and Moominfamily has a huge bonfire.
The next strange happening is the arrival of Thingumy and Bob, two mouse-sized creatures, dragging a suitcase, fleeing from a monster called the Groke. After the Moomins get rid of the Groke by giving it the most valuable thing in Moominvalley, the Hobgoblin’s hat, Thingumy and Bob become part of the ever-expanding, always-welcoming Moominfamily.
Soon thereafter, Moominmomma loses her handbag and promises a party to whoever can find it. Thingumy and Bob return it (they had been using it for a hammock) and the party is a joyous one, on a beautiful August evening, with fireworks, raspberry juice, pancakes for everyone, toasts, and dancing. Caught up in the excitement, Thingumy and Bob decide to show everyone what it is they have been hiding in their suitcase. It is the King’s Ruby! And its beautiful pinky-red light shines all the way to the moon, where the Hobgoblin sits, watching the world below. He throws himself onto his panther, hurtles through space, lands in the Valley of the Moomins, and demands the ruby. But when Thingumy and Bob refuse to give it up, the Hobgoblin settles for a plate of pancakes—and cheers himself up by offering everyone a wish. When it comes to Thingumy and Bob’s turn, they make a wish for the Hobgoblin (he cannot wish for himself) of a ruby just as beautiful as theirs—the Queen’s Ruby. And everyone is happy in Moominvalley.
This is a faux re-read, being my first encounter with the Moomins on the page. And I must say I had a hard time initially with the dreaminess of the whole thing—how so much is unexplained and how one event leads to another in such a wandering, amorphous, seemingly arbitrary fashion. I’m going to chalk this one up to culture shock: over-scheduled New York City-me just couldn’t understand these creatures who drift through the days in search of fun and adventure. What finally got me, halfway through the book, was the scene when the Moomins awake on the island and swim in the early morning sea: “Oh, to be a Moomin and to dance in the waves while the sun gets up!” Something clicked and I thought, “Oh, to be a Moomin indeed! To not be worried by the past or by the future, but to be able to truly take joy in the present moment!” The Moomins may be silly, but the way they unabashedly pursue happiness, throwing themselves wholeheartedly into whatever ridiculous situation comes their way, is truly enviable.
And as freewheeling as this book seems, it is actually very well constructed, with seeds planted throughout the episodic chaos that eventually bloom into an ending that is satisfying as well as surprising. The party scene at the end had me grinning, from Moomintroll’s toast to Snufkin (“Let us wish him a good pitch for his tent and a light heart!”) to the moment when the terrifying Hobgoblin says “Give me something to munch. This is getting on my nerves,” to this passage at the very end:
“Oh, what a wonderful feeling when you have eaten up everything, drunk everything, talked of everything and danced your feet off, to go home in the quiet hour before the dawn to sleep! And now the Hobgoblin flies to the end of the world, and the Mother Mouse creeps into her nest, and one is as happy as the other.”
It is spring here now, not in Moominvalley but on the island of Manhattan. Can we bring some of that Moominvalley talent for happiness into our own lives, as we look forward to the pleasures of summer?